Haggerty: Bruins-Canucks rivalry cooling off

Haggerty: Bruins-Canucks rivalry cooling off
February 5, 2014, 9:30 am
Share This Post

BOSTON -- Tuesday night's matchup between the Bruins and Vancouver Canucks at TD Garden might be the least memorable game they’ve played against each other in the last three years. That’s understandable given how difficult it could be for every game to live up to the hate-fueled feuds these two esteemed hockey clubs have cooked up.

It might also be a clear signal from the hockey gods that the rivalry between the Bruins and Canucks is on life support. After Boston sucked all the air out of the room in a 3-1 win over Vancouver on Tuesday, it seems as if the franchises are on divergent paths.

Brad Marchand kissing the Cup, and then hoisting an imaginary Cup in Vancouver a couple of months ago, might have been the last act of hate for the Black and Gold. Tuesday night felt much more like two teams fighting it out for two points rather than reliving old grudges.  

“I think the nonsense is out of it, but they’re a strong team and they’re a big team,” said Tuukka Rask. “It’s always going to be physical games against them. Today was no exception. There’s that little edge definitely when you play teams like that.

“We hadn’t beaten them since the Finals a few years ago. They’re a good team. They seem to want to beat us. The past few games -- I think the two games we played against them -- we were kind of caught off guard a little bit. On [Tuesday] we wanted to play a solid game and get that win we haven’t gotten yet . . . We did.”

Even calling the Canucks a “strong” and “big” team is a departure for the Bruins, and should let everyone know there’s now a difference perception of them.

Before the game, Claude Julien reminded the Bruins they were still looking for their first win over the Canucks since they hoisted the Cup over their heads three years ago in Vancouver. They went out and earned one in efficient, business-like fashion.

There was very limited pushing and shoving when play was stopped. Only five penalties were called between two teams that supposedly hated each other. There was simply plenty of good, hard physical hockey played -- most of which was within the rules.

There was no biting, no miming, and no crowd-pleasing updated edition of “Whack-A-Sedin” for the Boston crowd.  Johnny Boychuk didn’t like a couple of hits he absorbed from Kellan Lain and Ryan Kesler, but all he did was turn into a Canucks-seeking missile for the rest of the game.

It was good, honest hockey, and who would have ever thought that possible when these two teams played the nastiest Stanley Cup Final in the last three decades back in 2011?

“I think it was still pretty intense, in my mind," said coach Claude Julien. "You could see by the hits, by the battles and everything else. But it was done in a more tasteful way, I guess. There was nothing that crossed the line. I think that’s important, but I don’t think there’s any love lost between these two teams still.

“To me, there’s always respect for a team you played against in the Finals, and right now, it’s basically the first time we’ve beaten them since then. It was a victory that we needed.”

Maybe it’s that the Canucks are playing a different style under new coach John Tortorella, or perhaps it’s because Vancouver, which has now lost five in a row, has bigger problems.

But Tuesday night just didn’t really feel like a rivalry game. Instead the Bruins have continued on dictating their dominant style of play since the Cup win validated their way three years ago. And it seems more and more that the Canucks will never be the same after failing in their chance against Boston in the Stanley Cup Final.

The Sedin twins don’t look like good fits in the Tortorella system; they haven’t scored a goal in 17 games.

“We’re losing games 3-1, 2-0, 2-1, and the difference is we’re not scoring," said Henrik Sedin, who is playing hurt and did absolutely nothing in 20-plus minutes on ice in the loss to Boston.

"Me and Danny [Daniel Sedin] have got to step up and score goals. That’s number one, that’s the difference right now. It’s going to get us out of this trouble and it’s going to get the team going too. I think a lot of the guys are . . . if we’re not going, it’s tough for them to make a difference.  We’ve got to be the difference makers and we’re not right now.”

Part of the different vibe for Tuesday’s game might have had to do with the way it all unfolded. The Canucks have lost five games in a row while battling to stay in the eighth spot in the Western Conference, and they were playing on the second night of back-to-back games in Boston.

Daniel Sedin was all over the ice with 11 shot attempts and nearly tied the game in the second period on a shorthanded breakaway attempt. But his twin brother Henrik is playing through an injury that’s compromising his abilities, and both Ryan Kesler and Roberto Luongo didn’t really show up against the Bruins after being challenged by Tortorella over the last few days.

It’s becoming clear that some of the nine remaining players from the Vancouver Final team might be on their way out for a hockey club under reconstruction under Tortorella. They looked like a team searching for an identity on Tuesday night.

The Bruins, on the other hand, felt like the big kid on the block with Milan Lucic making plays all over the ice, and Patrice Bergeron dominating Ryan Kesler in a completely one-sided matchup of Selke Trophy candidates.

“It was [a pretty regular game],” said Lucic, who finished with a goal and an assist in another oversized performance. “I mean, I think like I said yesterday, both teams were more focused on the two points than anything else. It seemed like that today. And fortunately we were able to capitalize on some chances and get a win here.”

There’s a very good chance we’ve already experienced the best of the Bruins-Canucks rivalry before it disappears altogether. It seems like only another Cup Final showdown for both teams would spark it again, and Vancouver appears to be a long, long way from getting back there anytime soon.